NOVEMBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

I wonder if you also found November hurtling through time with gathering momentum. I have at last found a moment to reflect on an interesting month of birding in my garden. Only two newcomers this month: a Hoopoe – the ground is so hard at the moment that I am not surprised they have not featured on our lawn since February! The other is a pair of the very beautiful Paradise Flycatchers that we sometimes glimpse flitting between trees.

Redbilled Woodhoopoes have been regular visitors. Not only do they probe the cracks in the bark of older trees, but I see them using their long curved beaks to probe deep between the aloe leaves. They also occasionally visit the feeding tray to eat apples – and cheese!  Speaking of which, it is interesting to observe how meticulous all the birds are about wiping their beaks clean on the branches after eating, and even after drinking at the ‘nectar pub’.

Cape White-eyes are regular visitors to the nectar feeder. They look left and right between every sip and seldom stay for long at a time, preferring to fly off and return a few minutes later. They too enjoy pecking at the apples I put out.

A really beautiful sight is that of the Sacred Ibises flying in formation over the garden at the end of the day. They fly just high enough for the setting sun to highlight their white wings. I usually count about seventeen of them at flying graciously together after having spent their day at a dam on the edge of town.

I have already featured the nest of the Fork-tailed Drongo, but think it is worth showing it again. The parents are still taking turns to incubate the eggs and have been seen mobbing a Pied Crow more than once.

The fig tree remains a favourite place for the African Green Pigeons to roost – the thick foliage makes them very difficult to see unless they move. For the first time the other day, I observed one feeding another and wonder if this is part of a courting ritual. A pair of Red-winged Starlings are well beyond that stage for they have been filling their beaks with fruit to take off to feed their youngsters. One comes down to fill up on apples, waits for the other to arrive and do the same, then the two fly off together in the direction of their nest.

Nests: the Lesser-striped Swallows have had such a to-do already. Long-time readers will be aware that this pair has built numerous nests under our eaves. Sometimes they have managed to breed successfully, but every summer their mud nest collapses at least once and they have to start from scratch. Last summer they built their best nest yet: solid, beautifully formed and well positioned outside our front door. This nest was usurped by a pair of White-rumped Swifts and they had to build elsewhere. That beautiful nest was still intact on their return and they wasted no time in laying an egg – wonderful, I thought, until I came home to find an egg dashed on the floor and had to duck as the swifts flew above my head. They had grabbed the home for themselves again.

There was nothing for it. Despite the paucity of mud, the intrepid swallows mustered their courage to build a nest from scratch on the site of their original endeavours. It was coming on well – very well.

Then, alas, for reasons I am unable to fathom, the structure came tumbling down and turned to dust. They are now trying to build a nest at a different site they have used before. We need rain badly for all sorts of reasons, but especially to provide good building material for this plucky pair of birds!

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OCTOBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

October has been a bumper month for watching birds in our garden, including two visitors not seen for some time: the Bokmakierie and a Southern Red Bishop.  The arrival of the Redchested Cuckoo and the Lesserstriped Swallows serve as confirmation that winter is definitely behind us.

Two male Pintailed Whydahs have made regular forays into the garden and spend a lot of time chasing each other around and both behave aggressively towards other birds eating seeds on the ground.

At least one of them has learned how to sit on Morrigan’s feeder to eat seeds from there! The photograph below shows that this one’s full breeding plumage is not yet present – note the blotches of brown on its back and wings.

Hadeda Ibises have been collecting sticks for their flimsy nests – the strong winds experienced this month have left plenty of such nesting material on the ground for them. Female Village Weavers regularly collect feathers to line their nests.  I watched a pair of Blackcollared Barbets mating the other day.

We found the nest of a Greater Doublecollared Sunbird dangling from the end of a twig in the Natal Fig.

Some Olive Thrushes have already bred successfully and are seen feeding their youngsters.

My October bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Black Harrier (Gymnogene)
Black Saw-wing
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Jackal Buzzard
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe (Green)
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Black Tit
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellowfronted Canary

SEPTEMBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

September is a month of renewal: warmer weather – even some light rain – and the hours of daylight stretch at both ends of the day. This means the dawn chorus comes ever earlier – beautiful to listen to and such fun to distinguish the different bird calls. It has been a period of welcoming some birds back from their winter quarters as well as being able to watch the courtship, nest-building – and even finding a few eggshells lying on the ground.

Raptors have made their presence felt. A Black Harrier has swooped low over the garden several times, sending birds of all sizes scattering for shelter in the trees.

Both a Jackal Buzzard and a Yellowbilled Kite have had a nose-in too. I haven’t seen any evidence in the garden of their forays being successful – perhaps all the trees work in the favour of the smaller birds!

I am delighted to see a pair of Cape Wagtails bobbing about the lawn and inspecting the pool for insects once more. Whiterumped Swifts scythe through the air – a sure sign that summer is on its way.

Joining Klaas’ Cuckoo are the lovely sounds of the Diederik Cuckoo and the Bokmakierie. There have also been fleeting visits by Southern Black Tits, Yellowfronted Canaries and a Thickbilled Weaver.

Small flocks of Redbilled Woodhoopoes have swept through the garden from time to time, scouring nooks and crannies for things to eat. I recently saw some pulling what looked like grubs from under the bark of an ageing Tipuana tree and catching spiders in the cracks of a brick wall.

My September bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Black Harrier (Gymnogene)
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Egyptian Goose
Fierynecked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Jackal Buzzard
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe (Green)
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Black Tit
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellowfronted Canary

AUGUST 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

This is a late entry for August, which has been a busy month for the birds as well as for me! The birds have an earlier sense of the approaching spring than humans do and waste no time in making the most of what the change of season heralds. Cape Weavers have, for example, been building their nests in the back garden, making loud announcements while doing so. Several nests have been left incomplete and the birds move from one site to another – looking for the best place. It is all about location, location, location. Not to be outdone, the male Village Weavers spend a lot of time attracting attention by flapping their wings in between eating.

An abundance of Laughing Doves make short work of the seed I scatter on the lawn every morning, efficiently aided by Speckled Doves and a few Red-eyed Doves. The Hadeda Ibises wake earlier by the day, as if not a moment is to be wasted.

The Fork-tailed Drongo has been up to its regular trick of sounding an alarm call that sends all the birds rushing for cover, leaving feathers fluttering to the ground in their haste, only to use that moment to pick over the tit-bits in peace. A pair of them have been courting this month, making an interesting variety of calls while doing so. They have occasionally been joined by a third, which leads to interesting bouts of chasing each other vigorously around the garden until one gives up and flies off, leaving the other two in peace – for a while. The Black-eyed Bulbuls are equally cheeky as far as giving other birds a fright so that they can home in on the fruit.

A Boubou usually waits until all is quiet before inspecting what is on offer on the feeding tray, while the Olive Thrushes – often the first to arrive – regularly return during the day to glean what has been dropped once the main rush of birds have left to scour the neighbourhood for other sources of food. A pair of Black-collared Barbets have been calling each other from the treetops and occasionally flit down to the feeding tray in silence. Eating is a serious business for them and they have particularly enjoyed the offerings of fresh fruit.

With little in the way of nectar-bearing flowers blooming, the nectar feeder has required refilling on a daily basis. Regular visitors include Black-eyed Bulbuls, Black-headed Orioles, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, Fork-tailed Drongos and Amethyst Sunbirds.

My August bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Fierynecked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver

JULY 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

Welcome visitors passing through the garden this month have included a Southern Boubou calling loudly below my bedroom window; Crowned Plovers flying raucously overhead; a few Southern Masked Weavers; and a pair of Common Waxbills. None have stayed for long. I was particularly pleased when a Cape Wagtail entertained me over tea while it worked its way across the pipes in the pool: up and down it would go until the water became too deep, then it would fly back to the edge and start all over again – picking at tiny insects from either the water or on the pipe. This is a photograph taken with my phone from some distance away – for the record!

While we may still be feeling the chill of winter, the birds have already sensed and are preparing for the spring that is still a way off: a pair of Black-headed Orioles call to each other from tree tops across the garden, swooping down now and then to sip at the nectar feeder.

Many Village Weavers are sloughing off their winter tweeds and sprouting their bright yellow breeding plumage, while they fill the shrubbery with their cheerfully lolling swizzling songs or chase each other off the bird feeder.

A pair of Fork-tailed Drongos as well as a pair of Olive Thrushes have been chasing their prospective partners all over the garden for days. An Olive Thrush has been collecting nesting material lately.

Nesting is also on the mind of a Cape Weaver that has been carrying strips of grass towards an as yet undiscovered location in the back garden. For the birds then, spring is definitely in the air!

My July bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Crowned Plover
Fierynecked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver

JUNE 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

This month has been cold and very windy at times. What remains of the lawn is covered with the dried up leaves from the Cape Chestnut and the many Pompon (Dias cotonifolia) trees. The sun rising later and remaining lower above the horizon for longer has meant that the front garden remains in full shade until well past mid-morning. Generally, this means that the birds seek the highest branches to perch on while the sun warms them up and only come down to inspect the seed I have put out much later. This has caused me to change my routine too: I only provide seed at mid-morning, when I take a break for a cup of tea and also try to find warmth in the weak sunlight.

Here a Village Weaver perches on the hanging feeder:

Although there is no fruit in the garden, there must be something to eat for a flock of at least a hundred Redwinged Starlings wheel about the suburb daily, flying from one garden to the next and filling the air with their mellifluous sounds. A flock of a similar size of Laughing Doves gather in the Erythrina caffra in the back garden almost as soon as the rays of the sun reach its uppermost branches. They gradually work their way towards the front garden, fluttering from one tree to another until one or two finally pluck up the courage to settle down to test the crushed mealie seeds sprinkled on the patches of lawn beaten hard and bare by their myriad feet. I can almost tell the time they will arrive: fifteen to twenty minutes after I have sat down.

A pair of Blackeyed Bulbuls usually arrive mid-morning to investigate what is on offer – cut apples are a favourite. Their cheerful calls from within the yellowing foliage of the Pompon trees are always welcome. With most of the aloes having finished blooming, the nectar feeder has become more popular again, attracting the Amethyst Sunbird, Forktailed Drongos, Cape Weavers, and Blackheaded Orioles among others.

My June bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African harrier Hawk (Gymnogene)
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Barn Swallow
Blackbacked Puffback
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Heron
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Eurasian Hobby
Fierynecked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Southern Black Tit
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver

MAY 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been an in-between month for watching birds in the garden. Several days have passed with no need to top of the seed in the feeders; during some mornings or afternoons the garden has been silent – as if all avian life had departed for a different planet. Several aloes have bloomed and faded with nary a visitor … then, just when you think some plague has hit, Redwinged Starlings fly over in large flocks to settle in the branches of the Erythrina caffra; the cheerful sound of weavers spill through the jungle of leaves threaded together by the Canary Creeper and the Golden Shower; and flocks of tiny Bronze Manikins cluster around the feeder or flit through the creepers, constantly ‘chatting’ as they do so. Here is one of them:

African Green Pigeons play hide-and-seek, calling mysteriously either from the Natal Fig or the Erythrina caffra during the late afternoon – perhaps when they come to roost – but provide only fleeting glimpses of themselves. A pair of Knysna Turacos purr and snort softly within their leafy world – they move silently for such large birds – so I felt privileged watching them flitting through the foliage the other day and drink from the stone bird bath situated in the shade. The Black-collared Barbets are also heard more often than they are seen these days, although three of them spent a leisurely time feeding on the apples I had put out this morning.

Black-headed Orioles call from the tree tops almost daily and occasionally come to the nectar feeder:

I simply have to share again a photograph of one of the Crowned Hornbills that graced our garden for a few days before exploring somewhere else:

It is an odd time of the year to be hearing the familiar calls of Klaas’ Cuckoo and a tad disappointing to see so little of the Cape Robins, although they continue to sing quietly from deep within the undergrowth. Waves of Cattle Egrets pass over every evening, having kept the Urban Herd company during the day, as they head for their chosen roosting trees in the centre of town. May is an in-between month of warm days followed by cold; of a warm Berg Wind shaking leaves from trees heralding days of gloomy skies and dampness; it is a month of weak sunshine and dark nights … the birds may come and go, but there are always enough around to provide real pleasure!

My May bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Barn Swallow
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Egyptian Goose
Eurasian Hobby
Fierynecked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Village Weaver
Yellowbilled Kite